Elliot Alpern: Unsung heroes of 2012

By Elliot Alpern, Daily Music Columnist
Published January 15, 2013

The Daily’s “Best Of” edition in the B-side has come and gone, and with it our official judgment of this year’s musical harvest. In the future (even the near future), we’ll look back on our top-10 list as a snapshot of our collective perception of the music industry at large, wondering why some were ever favored (and unsung others never picked). Yet overall, our “Best Of” edition accomplishes no small feat: It aggregates the opinion of all of our writers (and differences of opinion are in no short supply therein).

And as much as I enjoy seeing our official impression of the past year at large, I rarely ever take them seriously. We’ve written about the fallacy of the “best” of anything before (recently, even). At least to me, there’s a pervasive, fatal flaw in the core function of picking any “best of” list and publishing it for the masses, one that compromises any trust you’d like to place in such authoritative opinions.

Reason it out yourself: As a music writer, you’re about to tell the world your fundamental opinions on music as a whole. Composing a list without any bias (or distortion), people will suddenly know your deepest secrets and weirdest musical compulsions. And how much respect would be lost if a guilty pleasure like Taylor Swift soared above Frank Ocean or Beach House.

Speaking of which, though those albums are wholly deserving of being recognized, a bias tends to fester as the list gets put together. Albums deemed too close to the edge of “popular appeal” are often downgraded or passed over altogether, much to the unreliability of a list (though, no, Taylor Swift, I still don’t think you’re on the list).

In any case, this column is my short stab in the dark at doing justice, at talking about the year in music — at least what’s really worth talking about. Just like any music writer, I’m limited to the music I like but I’m willing, at the very least, to simply share what I enjoyed — the good, the bad and the catchy.

There’s been one snub left from the Daily’s list that’s been on my mind a lot. I shouldn’t be shocked — amid ultra-hip acts like Beach House, Grimes and Tame Impala, I didn’t expect to find anything beside the band names that felt sexy to name-drop in a music discussion.

But Mumford & Sons’ Babel, while not perfect, was nonetheless a decently high pick in my own best of list. Critics tended to make the same case — that they sound too similar to Sigh No More (cue the obligatory joke where they all get each other banjos for Christmas). But there’s more than enough worth saving here, from a spot-on rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” to the sometimes haunting and often contemplative “Where Are You Now,” “Holland Road” and “Below My Feet.”

And I have very little doubt that musical elitism led to the omission of two of indie’s best releases in 2012: Passion Pit’s Gossamer and Of Monster and Men’s My Head Is An Animal. After all, no one wants to seem like the frat bros who pumped “Sleepyhead” from every grimy speaker of their house. But even aside from the crowd-pleasers like “Take a Walk” and “Carried Away” (which, honestly, tend to please a crowd quite well), Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos manages to imbue a surprising amount of soul into his material. Set “Constant Conversations” on repeat for a few times, tune in and drop out — fade into the pink mist suggested by the album’s cover.

Of Monsters and Men is admittedly almost indie enough to be a trendy pick for the year — in fact, it was close to clawing its way into placing for a low spot on the list. But alas, the Icelandic folksters’ gifted vocals and infectious melodies were beat out by another indie group — the much more American/pop-friendly fun.

Speaking of which, it seems as though we tend to run into another problem with picking the best music: We select based on what we feel like we should pick. The success of fun., coupled with the group’s unique indie sound, made it seemingly worth the inclusion — after all, how could someone skip over the album that gave us “Some Nights” and the anthemic “We Are Young”?

Here’s the counterargument: Why else would we pick it? I too fell prey to this illusion, even giving it a low spot on my list, before coming to: It’s not a great album. It’s an okay album speckled with a few genuine gems — so yes, those songs are perhaps some of the best singles of the year. But will I really be listening to the deep tracks of Some Nights in a few years? I doubt it.

Overall, I’m excited for the coming year and the inevitable Best of 2013. Because, while the lists are imperfect, they’re not always wrong. After all, what was my own best album of the year? Undeniably Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d.. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.